Skip to toolbar

To: The Wellesley College Community
From: President Paula A. Johnson
Re: Wellesley’s Plan for Fall 2020 and Beyond
Date: June 30, 2020

Last week, I shared initial information about how Wellesley’s commitment to enhancing health and safety is shaping our plans for the upcoming 2020–2021 academic year. Today, I want to give you more details about how life at Wellesley will look and feel next year. These plans reflect the hard work of many teams across the College that have examined all aspects of the academic program and residential life, to prepare for a return to campus for many of our students, faculty, and staff.

As Wellesley’s president and as a physician, I want to assure you that working to protect the health and safety of our community will continue to be our top priority. We know that physical distancing, face coverings, and frequent hand washing are powerful tools that can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and will need to be employed until a vaccine is available.

Because we must maintain physical distancing in our residence halls and classrooms, we cannot have all our students on campus at one time. As a result, first-years and sophomores will be invited to campus this fall and will study remotely in the spring; juniors and seniors will study remotely in the fall and will be invited to campus in the spring. Additional rooms will be available in the residence halls for RAs and those students who need to be on campus for the entire year. We are also exploring the possibility of a satellite residential housing option for a number of juniors and seniors in the fall. Any student who wishes to study remotely for the full year will be able to do so.

Over the last two months, we have been deeply engaged in planning an excellent academic program that our faculty will teach through a combination of in-person and remote formats. We will offer our rigorous curriculum over four terms rather than two semesters to allow for greater focus and concentration when students are learning remotely, and to make it easier for us to complete a term if we need to transition to remote instruction for public health reasons. We are also planning to offer all of our students the opportunity to enjoy a rich residential experience here at Wellesley for at least part of the year, and we will provide them with access to virtual services and support that will connect and engage them when they are not on campus.

Below are more details about our plans for the next academic year. These plans are based on current public health guidance, and may be revised as this guidance evolves. Ordinarily, we would send separate communications, one to students and parents and one to faculty and staff, but now more than ever, we are one community, so we are sharing this information with all of you.

In the 2020–2021 academic year, we will offer a rigorous academic program delivered through a curriculum that will serve our students wherever they are. Faculty are preparing some courses geared specifically toward students living on campus, some for students who will be taking classes remotely, and others that will be available to both groups. In all three cases, faculty will provide energizing educational experiences that will challenge students to do their best work and set them up for success both at Wellesley and beyond. We plan to follow our regular grading policy for the 2020–2021 academic year.

Academic calendar

  • Fall classes will begin on August 31 and will include two seven-week terms.
  • Term 1 will run from August 31 through October 13, followed by a short reading period and final exams. October 18–25 is a break between terms; students who are living on campus will be expected to stay on campus during this break. We will provide an array of wellness, leadership, and reflection activities to engage and support students during this time.
  • Term 2 will begin on October 26. Students living on campus will be asked to stay through Thanksgiving break, which allows us to maximize in-person class time and finish classes earlier than usual. Classes will end on December 11. Reading period and finals will be remote and will extend from December 12 to December 18. Students may choose to remain on campus to study and take exams.
  • In place of our traditional Wintersession, we will offer innovative experiential learning projects, conducted remotely, for each class year that will be grounded in building connected communities, leadership development, and reflection.
  • Spring terms will begin February 1 and conclude in mid-May. We plan to celebrate commencement for the class of 2021 on May 28, and will announce plans early next year for the on-campus celebration for the class of 2020.
  • To give students additional options for residential or remote study, we expect to offer a program of both in-person and remote seven-week courses during an optional summer term in 2021.

Classrooms, laboratories, and studios 

  • Our Facilities Management department is reconfiguring each classroom, lab, and studio to ensure that students and faculty can work together while maintaining at least six feet of physical distancing. We are also converting some larger spaces on campus to function as classrooms.
  • The College is investing in enhanced computer and audio-visual technology to facilitate communication in the classroom even while students and faculty are wearing masks.

Office hours and advising

  • Faculty will continue to hold regular office hours to work with students one on one and in small groups. For students on campus, meetings might take place in conference rooms, outside on campus, or via Zoom to maintain physical distancing.
  • Class deans will be available to meet individually with students during the summer and throughout the semester to provide academic guidance and support.

Independent research

  • Academic departments have carefully considered their programs for honors in the major to incorporate more work that can be done off-campus in anticipation of our new geographical and facilities constraints.

Cross registration (BOW and MIT) 

  • Babson, Olin, Brandeis and Wellesley will not be offering cross registration for in-person classes next year.
  • Wellesley students will not be able to take in-person classes at MIT this year, and a decision on remote classes is forthcoming.

International students

  • We know that it might not be possible for our international first-year students and returning sophomores to come to campus in the fall. We strongly encourage these students to enroll in Wellesley courses remotely. Many remote courses will be open to first-years and sophomores (including first-year writing). We are working on issues related to time-zone scheduling so that all students will have an equal opportunity to participate in synchronously held courses.
  • International first-year students who are not able to come to campus in the fall will be given highest priority (after juniors and seniors) for campus housing in the spring.

Study abroad

  • A limited number of fall semester and full-year study abroad programs are still available, and Wellesley’s International Safety Committee will be assessing the viability of travel, as well as health and safety benchmarks and protocols for all sites, throughout the summer. We encourage students planning to study abroad to register for remote Wellesley courses as a backup.
  • Juniors and seniors who were not previously intending to study abroad in the fall may still sign up for one of the fall programs. They would study remotely for term 1 and opt for one of the new seven-week study abroad programs we are developing for term 2.
  • We are also developing a range of seven-week study abroad options for first-year and sophomore students during spring term 4 to complement remote learning in spring term 3.
  • More information on all of these study abroad options will be available on the Office of International Study website later this week.

This year we will offer a residential experience that prioritizes both the health and safety of our students and the development of a sense of belonging and connection among students both on and off campus. The Office of Student Life will offer a mix of programs, events, and activities in which all students can participate. They will create educational, health and wellness, and recreational content, and they will continue to build virtual communities throughout the year.


  • To reduce the risk of virus transmission, all students will live in singles next year. First-years and sophomores will come to campus in the fall; juniors and seniors will be on campus in the spring.
  • On-campus housing for the fall will be offered to juniors and seniors who meet the following criteria: international students who have been unable to return home since the spring; students whose home situations make remote learning nearly impossible or for whom Wellesley College is their primary residence; senior honors students who require access to physical spaces on campus; second semester seniors graduating in December; and our student Residential Life staff, academic success coaches, and other key student leaders such as the College Government Cabinet. If any on-campus rooms remain available for the fall once those students have been assigned housing, we will consider requests from other juniors and seniors who wish to live on campus.
  • We are exploring the possibility of contracting with a nearby hotel and using the entire facility as satellite residential housing for juniors and seniors who want to be on campus in the fall. These students would take classes remotely, but the College would provide regular transportation to campus, and students would have access to on-campus dining. Juniors and seniors will receive more information and have the chance to request this option as part of the Fall Intent Form.
  • To observe physical distancing and limit exposure, campus facilities will be open only to students who are living in College-provided housing, whether on campus or in the satellite residential housing. Due to health and safety concerns, students who choose to live at home or in off-campus apartments in the local area will not be able to take classes on campus or have access to campus facilities.
  • Guests will not be permitted in the residence halls or in any campus buildings.
  • All students living on campus or in satellite residential housing will be expected to agree to comply with health and safety protocols, including undergoing regular testing for COVID-19, and uphold the standards within the Code of Conduct, which is in the process of being updated for the fall.
  • Starting July 2, students should complete Fall Intent Form. On this form, students will be asked to indicate the following: their intention to return to campus housing, study remotely, or take a leave of absence and, in the case of juniors and seniors, their interest in satellite residential housing. The form must be completed by July 10.
  • Students with individual concerns or questions about housing, or who are members of at-risk groups identified by the CDC, should reach out to the Office of Accessibility and Disability Resources to discuss their options.

Move-in and orientation

  • A phased move-in will begin on August 24, starting with student leaders and extending over several days. Students will receive more detailed information about this process later this summer.
  • First-years will participate in a virtual orientation program over the summer and an in-person, three-day orientation on campus.

Student health and safety procedures

  • Before traveling to campus, we ask that students quarantine at home for 14 days. As the pandemic continues to evolve, we will update arrival guidelines based on Massachusetts state protocols.
  • Students will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and again every two to three days during their first 14 days on campus, using new technology for a noninvasive test that is easily administered.
  • Throughout their time on campus, students will be required to undergo a regular weekly test for COVID-19. Students must also complete a daily app-based symptom tracking questionnaire and agree to comply with other health and safety protocols, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing.
  • Quarantine spaces for close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases will be reserved. Isolation spaces for positive cases will be located in dedicated buildings on campus.
  • Health Services will offer students both in-person and virtual appointments for all health issues. The Stone Center Counseling Service will continue to provide virtual support to all students, and in-person appointments for students on campus or in satellite residential housing. The Stone Center can also help students find treatment options in their home states.


  • Several large dining halls will be open, and students will have the option of grab-and-go meals as well as limited in-person seating with appropriate physical distancing.
  • Dining facilities that do not allow for physical distancing will be closed for the fall. Those include the Leaky Beaker, Collins Café, El Table, Punch’s Alley, and Café Hoop. The Emporium will only be open for to-go meal pickup. These locations will be reevaluated in the spring.

Athletics and physical education

  • Wellesley values the important role of varsity athletics in the educational experience of our students. Unfortunately, due to health and safety concerns, Wellesley will not be able to participate in traditional varsity athletics competition during the fall. Student-athletes who live on campus will be able to practice and train within relevant guidelines. The Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics (PERA) department may explore limited virtual and/or asynchronous competitions for varsity sports where feasible.
  • No decision has been made regarding winter or spring seasons at this time, though winter sports teams will not be competing during the fall segment of their season.
  • Physical education courses will be offered for credit. The vast majority of these classes will be taught virtually and will be accessible to students living on or off campus.
  • Club sports will not be available in the fall. We will make a decision regarding spring club sports based on public health guidance later in the fall.

Transportation and travel

  • The MIT Exchange and Wellesley-Olin-Babson shuttle services will be suspended for the year. The Senate Bus and the shuttle to the Natick mall will be suspended for the fall; we will revisit this decision in the spring if public health conditions permit.
  • The escort service run by Campus Police and Accessibility and Disability Resources will continue to provide transportation around campus for students who require it.
  • Student travel will be limited to the local surroundings. Given the need to limit exposure, travel to Boston is strongly discouraged. Students should not travel out of state, and any exceptions require approval.

We understand that students and their families may be experiencing financial challenges, and we affirm our commitment to meeting students’ full calculated financial need. Please refer to this Student Financial Services FAQ for more information.

  • Students who are not living in College housing will not be charged room and board.
  • For students receiving aid, we have replaced the student contribution from summer work ($1,950 for most students) with grant aid.
  • There will be opportunities for student employment through the College for students who will be on campus and remote. Students who are eligible for need-based financial aid will have priority.
  • Tuition and fees for 2020-21 will remain the same as communicated in March.
  • Students will receive a single bill for the fall, covering term 1 and term 2. The billing statement will be released in Workday during the week of July 20–25 and is due on August 24.

We are relying on all members of our community at Wellesley—faculty, staff, and students—to accept and consistently comply with public health guidance, policies, and protocols developed by the state and the College to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep our campus as safe as possible. This is a multilayered approach, and our collective goal is to support our students in their curricular and co-curricular life at Wellesley.

Personal health, testing, and tracing

  • All members of the community will wear masks and practice physical distancing, which means staying six feet apart from others at all times. Class sizes and gatherings will be strictly limited.
    • Residential students will receive one cloth mask in their welcome packets, and students should plan to bring their own additional masks and other supplies.
    • The College will have masks available for student-facing staff and for faculty who are teaching in person.
  • Faculty and staff will be required to log symptoms into a daily health-check app in order to be cleared to work on campus; students will need to do the same to be cleared to go to class.
  • Both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and contact tracing will be an integral part of keeping our community healthy.
    • Regular asymptomatic testing will be required for students, and offered to student-facing faculty and staff, throughout the academic terms. The test we will use requires noninvasive swabbing of the nose.
    • Staff will be trained to perform contact tracing in coordination with public health authorities that will help to limit any potential spread of COVID-19 in our community. We are also closely monitoring the development of technologies that can support contact tracing, while being mindful of the privacy concerns of our faculty, staff, and students.

Facilities and campus access 

  • The campus will remain closed to the public for the fall semester.
  • Departments will work with the Facilities Management team to prepare all common campus spaces (e.g. by marking floors with tape to indicate proper spacing, designating entrances and exits, etc.) and facilitate decreased occupancy limits and physical distancing in spaces such as Clapp Library, the Science Center, and dining halls.
  • The College will install several hundred hand sanitizing stations in locations across campus, including entrances and exits of buildings, and provide additional sanitizing and disinfecting supplies in various shared spaces, such as classrooms and restrooms.
  • The Facilities Management team will be implementing increased cleaning schedules for locations including bathrooms in residence halls, restrooms in academic buildings, individual classrooms, and high-touch points across campus.

We will welcome faculty and staff back to campus this fall in a phased approach to support our students, the academic program, and the business of the College. Decision-making regarding employees’ return to the workplace will be related to mission-critical operations that cannot be achieved remotely; ability to minimize health risks in specific work environments; the need to access on-site resources; and state recommendations and guidelines.

  • Many staff members who are able to work remotely will continue to do so where possible to reduce population density on campus.
  • Faculty offering in-person or hybrid classes will return to campus to teach; other faculty will teach remotely.
  • Departments will work with division heads to develop flexible plans for staffing and operations. Staff will hear from their supervisors and division heads about phased plans for their return to campus and scheduling details later in July.
  • Employees who are members of at-risk groups identified by the CDC and have concerns about returning to work on campus should contact Human Resources.
  • All College-sponsored travel is still suspended until further notice, and personal travel is still strongly discouraged. If employees choose to travel out of state, they should follow current Massachusetts self-quarantine guidance upon returning home.
  • Additional information for faculty and staff can be found in the Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff FAQ.

Students and families should consider the information included here and in the Fall 2020 Students and Families FAQ as they make their decisions about the fall semester. We encourage all students and families to register for and attend our upcoming webinars, and to share any questions, comments, or concerns with us in our fall planning feedback form.

  • Pre-register for and attend one of the following two webinars. We will post recordings on the website for those who are unable to attend.
  • Beginning July 2, review the fall semester course browser (with details of term 1 and term 2 courses).
  • Fill out the Fall Intent Form, which will open on July 2 and will include the Financial Responsibility Acknowledgment (previously known as the Tuition Acknowledgement form). The deadline to complete this is July 10.
  • Deadline for returning students to request leaves is July 10.
  • The deadline for newly enrolling students to request a gap year has passed. Those who do not wish to enroll for the fall must withdraw their applications by emailing by July 10.
  • Course registration for returning students, entering transfer students, and Davis Scholars is the week of July 27 (students will register for fall semester term 1 and term 2 at the same time).
  • Course registration for first-year students is August 21.

I have often said that Wellesley is more than a place, it is a community—and this year, our community will be tested like never before. I am confident that in spite of the many restrictions, we will find innovative ways to create community both on campus and remotely. When we are together on campus, we will share a special responsibility for helping to protect the health and safety of the people we care about so much. We will have the chance to demonstrate that care and concern through our individual and collective actions. We are truly all in this together, and knowing this community as I do, I have no doubt that Wellesley will rise to the challenge.